Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It seems like a fitting illustration as I write these words. I'm having trouble hearing with one of my ears due to head congestion. Until this subsides, listening well will be a challenge. But, hearing and listening well are spiritual issues as well as physical ones.

"They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error." (1 John 4:5-6)

John compares and contrasts false teachers and true teachers of God's word and truth. The world is attentive to false teachers because they speak their language. But, the people of God will be attentive to the truth when they hear it. So, the challenging question is: who and what am I truly listening to?

Some of the most significant spiritual insights in my life have come through people whose comments generally seemed either shallow or misguided. In a moment of partial attentiveness, I've been jolted to awareness of a profound insight through their comments that bore the mark of God. And that seems typical of how God works. Consider, for example, the parables of Jesus. These simple stories were decidedly offensive to the learned religious leaders of Jesus' day. And yet, if they had child-like humility, they would have discovered gems of truth rich enough to explore for a lifetime, if they were only willing to listen.

The danger of knowing is that it can easily be a deterrent to further learning. The more we think we know, the less we think we have to learn. But, true wisdom is in realizing that the more we know, the more there is to know.

It is significant that Jesus often ended his parables with the phrase, "he who has ears to hear, let him hear." (i.e., Mark 4:9). He also said, "For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him." (Matthew 13:12). Learning and understandings comes in direct proportion to our ability to truly hear and listen.

My physical hearing problem today will at least partially clear in time. The greater challenge and issue, however, is concerning my spiritual hearing, as it no doubt is for you too. Maybe you and I do well today to come honestly before God for a true assessment of our spiritual hearing.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It's a radical choice: Who and what will you truly love? Few questions are as difficult to honestly answer as this one.

"Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever." (1 John 2:15-17)

The difficult word here is, "love". Having and using the things of the world is one thing; emotional attachment to them is quite another. The challenging question is, how do I know if I am in love with the world and the things of it? The answer may be as basic as the directive Jesus gave to the rich young ruler: "Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me." (Mark 10:21) Jesus did not require this of every person wishing to follow Him, but He did for a young man unwilling to take this radical step. He requires the same of us if a similar attitude is present.

That which we love is that which we are unwilling to give up. If the things of this world can easily be passed from our hands to the hands of others, we likely are not in love with the world. But, that which we have an iron grip on has an iron grip on us.

According to John's words, the disparity between the system of the world and the kingdom of God could not be greater. The urgings and appeal of the system of the world are in radical opposition the Father's system. A loving stance for one is decisive hatred toward the other. Loving loyalty for both cannot coexist.

Someone once said, to paraphrase, that "most modern Christians want the good life with a little Jesus overlay." In my life, I find it difficult to totally refute that statement. Surrounded by the trappings of our modern technological world, I cannot say that this statement is totally untrue of me. In my mind, I believe that I hold the things of the world loosely, but practice may prove otherwise.

One of the most pressing and searching questions we can ask ourselves today is: Who and what do I truly love? Our future life in the age to come depends on an honest answer.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Monday, December 27, 2010

Holiday overindulgence prepares the way for new year dieting and health-consciousness. The trend is predictable and fickle; as predictable as the coming of this season of year, and equally short-lived.

Those who resolve to live a healthier lifestyle will find these words appealing: "THE ONE WHO DESIRES LIFE, TO LOVE AND SEE GOOD DAYS ... " (1 Peter 3:10). What follows are timely tips on living the good life; a life of love and satisfaction. But, as you will see, these words have little to do with diet and exercise:

In short, the key to the good life is full participation with our Father. God has established the principles of honest and upbuilding speech, active goodness, and the way of peace. This aligns us with the God Whose eyes are "toward the righteous", and Whose "ears attend to their prayer." Conversely, His face is set against those who do evil.

These timeless truths, taken from Psalm 34, are framed in 1 Peter against the backdrop of unjust suffering and abuse. Those who mistreat the people of God will find no basis for accusation in light of a blameless lifestyle. If we are zealous to do good, the injustice of our suffering and persecution will be clearly evident.

Often, the purposes of God are accomplished amidst the pain. We have only to look at the unjust suffering of Christ as an example. The greatest work of God was accomplished through the greatest unjust suffering of all time. Should it surprise us, then, when we literally become painfully aware that His plans are being accomplished through our pain? How we handle adversity is potentially the greatest witness we will ever have.

Whether we are living amidst pain or prosperity, God's principles of godly speech, active goodness, and pursing the path of peace with people are always the right principles to live by. These principles comprise ultimate "fitness" in this age, and the one to come.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Last-day living necessitates pressing priorities. A business-as-usual mentality no longer works amidst the unique challenges and demands of the end times, so what exactly are we to do? Here are directives that spell it out clearly:

"The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:7-11)
A proper mental attitude for the purpose of prayer, fervent love, hospitality, and service according to giftedness all factor in to last-day living. But, these directives don't sound any different than the marching orders we have any other time. Shouldn't the end times demand survivalism, secretive communal living, and special evangelistic fervor?

The fact is, we're well over two thousand years into "the last days." They began with a dramatic declaration by the apostle Peter in Jerusalem at a Jewish festival celebration: "'AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,' God says, 'THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND ..." (Acts 2:17). If there is such a thing as the "norm" for us, it is that we live our lives in "the last days". That knowledge, then, adds special emphasis to these pressing priorities. We pray as though today was the last day. We love fervently in the moment. We gladly welcome one another into our homes. We fully serve today while we have the opportunity.

For us, every day is lived in "the last days". The possibility of this being the last day of the last days has never been closer, or truer. In less time than you can blink your eyes, time could give way to eternity.

The older I get, the more aware I become of the fact that mortality supersedes prophecy. In other words, the end of life looms at least as large as the Second Coming. "The end of all things is near" is true for every mortal being, whether the human author of these words over two thousand years ago, or you and I who live a heartbeat from the end. Whether from the standpoint of prophecy or mortality, end-time priorities are more pressing than we fully realize.

We have this moment, but perhaps not the next. There is urgency in the now. Pray purposefully. Love fervently. Welcome graciously. Serve diligently. Devotion to these pressing priorities will never lead to regret; life in the age to come will be more than ample reward for devotion to its essentials today.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It seems like an impossible tall order: "Keep your behavior excellent" (1 Peter 2:12). In order to cut some slack, I would have opted for another word or phrase instead of "excellent"; like, "generally good". After all, whose behavior isn't subject to some degree of criticism from time to time. The key seems to be to behave in such a way as to not totally discredit the faith we profess. But, a little hypocrisy lurks in everyone's life.

Well, fact is we ARE called to keep our behavior "excellent"; not "generally good". And there is a key reason why we are to do so:

"Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation." (1 Peter 2:12)
Lest the word "Gentiles" trip you up, it's a word for non-believers; especially those who are antagonistically so. In the midst of criticism and persecution by vehement non-believers, we are admonished to keep our behavior excellent so that their abuse can be turned instead to praise and belief.

Much as an unbelieving world tries to disregard believers, in this area it is especially attentive. If cynics have cause for criticism, it is most likely to be found in how believers handle unjust suffering. The law of retaliation courses strong in our human bloodstream, but when it is absent, a skeptical world more fully realizes that the blood of the carpenter from Nazareth has been transfused in its place. When we respond to adversity supernaturally rather than naturally, we display compelling excellent behavior.

If the reminder of the impact of our behavior upon non-believers isn't sufficient motivation for excellent behavior, then perhaps a reminder of our true identify is: "But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). Space here doesn't permit a detailed explanation of these descriptive phrases, but personal study of them is a profitable pursuit, if you have never done so. Learning more about who you are is powerful motivation for how you live.

Unbelieving eyes are on us today as we live your lives. Let's model a lifestyle that will turn them to praise.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Monday, December 20, 2010

In an age of frenetic activity, it's a quality that holds little appeal; unless it can be accomplished while microwaving breakfast before rushing off to work. Give me patience, and give it to me now.

"Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near." (James 5:7-8)

Patience is a virtue I am immensely disqualified to speak about. A first-born perfectionist, I inherently want what I want, when I want it, exactly as I want it. Well, the classroom of life and the Spirit of God have patiently been teaching me that these expectations are a recipe for deep frustration and dissatisfaction. Life in an imperfect world is fraught with delays, denials, and disappointment. Patience is the only quality that will save us from insanity amidst unrealistic expectations.

In a technological age, it's easy to lose sight of lessons from agriculture. Patience for a farmer is not optional; the cycles of planting and harvest are basically immutable. A farmer who plants one day and expects to harvest the next will not last long at his vocation!

Prophets speaking in the name of the Lord are examples of both patience and suffering (verse 10). I immediately think of Noah, faithfully speaking of coming judgment all the while he labored to build an ark - with not one single convert from his patient preaching.

"You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near." The sooner we adjust our expectations to the plan of God's progress, the better. Granted, there sometimes are immediate answers and results, but these are the exception rather than the norm. And, since God is in the business of building kingdom character in His people, immediate results rarely serve that purpose.

Life will hand you and I experiences today that will demand patience. For my part, based on past performance, I'll not respond perfectly, but probably more patiently than in the past. Patience is progressing, but it certainly hasn't arrived. The coming of the Lord hasn't arrived either, but its nearness is today's motivation.

May our patience be a praise to our Father today.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

For many, it is the most difficult faith and trust issue. The challenges of our times has many people wondering about provision - will I have a job? Will I be able to pay the bills? Will I be able to avoid foreclosure on my house? Will I be able to retire, or stay retired? These questions and issues are pertinently addressed in this passage:

"Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, 'I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,' so that we confidently say, 'THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?'" (Hebrews 13:5-6)

All too often the Bible's directives concerning money and wealth have been misunderstood. As the writer of Hebrews urges, avoid a love of money. A similar warning is issued in 1 Timothy 6:10, with the key focus being on a LOVE of money, not mere possession of it. The poverty-stricken can love their meager fare to their detriment, whereas the abundantly wealthy can be free of the love of money through generous charity. It's not about how much you have; it's about how attached you are to what you have.

Regardless of our financial status or economic times, the priority is "being content with what you have." Invoking God's promise of provision in Deuteronomy 31:6, and the Psalmist's confident assertion in Psalm 118:6, the writer of Hebrews reminds us that God has a track record of faithfulness in providing for His people as He sees fit. And therein lies a potential problem: envy, the green-eyed monster, causes us to be less than grateful when we notice God providing more for our neighbor than ourselves. It is much to easy to be discontent with what we have when we compare with the Jones'. But, envy doesn't always look to our neighbor; sometimes it looks to our past. Why do I have less now than I did a year ago? What can't I enjoy the prosperity today that I had two years ago?

The perspective of a man who has experienced the extremes of wealth and poverty is insightful: "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity" (Philippians 4:11-12). The apostle Paul prospered in boom times, and suffered loss in times of economic downturn. Neither extreme adversely affected a man who knew that life consisted of more than possessions.

Experts predict that the current economic decline is only the first tremor of a massive seismic quake to come. Only time will tell if these predictions are accurate or exaggerated. But, the God of Moses, Joshua, and David will continue to provide for His people as there is need, and His supply is not threatened or diminished. The secret of contentment is resting in that assurance, and rejoicing in His present supply. Let's live thankfully today according to both of these facts.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I can almost hear the collective groan at this weak humor, but there is so much "let us" in this passage that it sounds like a vegetable garden (you can't say I didn't warn you!) Hebrews ten contains three "let us" phrases in three verses that we do well to look at:

" let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith ... Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering ... let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:22,23,24).

If ever you wanted to know what the life and sacrifice of Christ ought to mean to you, here it is. First of all, it provides the basis and confidence for approaching a holy God. I envy the first man, Adam, who had the privilege of "walking in the garden in the cool of the day" with God (Genesis 3:8). One fateful day, however, all changed, and has never been the same since. Since that day, a walk in the park with a holy God has been a prescription for certain destruction. But, through the sacrifice of His sinless Son, we now have confidence to draw near and experience intimacy long lost through paradise lost.

Secondly, because of the accomplished work of Christ and the confidence to approach a holy God, we are admonished to "hold fast" the hope we confess without wavering. In other words, don't take privilege for granted; be zealous to guard the gift given. As has been said, grace is free, but it is not cheap. It cost the Son of God His very life, and we must forfeit our life if we would freely receive His.

Thirdly, the life and work of Christ implies that we make it our ambition to stir up our brothers and sisters in Christ to exemplify His love and loving deeds. Responding to His sacrifice means that we collectively seek to live His lifestyle.

Three "let us" phrases powerfully remind us that the Christian life is a collective thing. The writer of Hebrews didn't write, "you draw near ... you hold fast ... you consider ...". Instead of "you", he addressed "us"; a group. It's a bit like a group class assignment: the teacher gathers the class and gives specific instructions for the project they are to work on. And so it is with us: our church congregation, Sunday School class, or home group is called together to work out the details of the assignment; none in the group are exempt.

Let me suggest that one of the fundamental problems with the Christian faith in our time is that we've made it a "Lone Ranger" thing. In a culture that places heavy emphasis on individuality, we've subtly allowed this emphasis to supplant the collective life of the body of Christ. Church involvement in a transparent and authentic way has become an option rather than an imperative.

"Let us draw near ... let us hold fast ... let us consider". Jot down on your "to-do" list this important priority: to gather soon with your spiritual family group for some important "let us" discussion.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Monday, December 13, 2010

The saying goes, "when you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on." Fact is, if we wait until we're at the end of our rope to tie a knot and hang on, we're in really big trouble. Hanging on, or holding on, is a lifelong priority.

"Christ was faithful as a Son over His house -whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end ... For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end" (Hebrews 3:6,14)

It's lately been impressed upon me that the Christian life can't be placed on autopilot. The concept of maintenance has been much on my mind, and the illustration of a car or house seems to fit pretty well. As you know, maintenance of a car or home is essential; left to themselves, they will wear out and fall into disrepair. And the same can easily happen in the Christian life if we are not vigilant.

The perils of hard-heartedness are mentioned several times in Hebrews three. This is the enviable outcome of failing to "hold fast" that which we have been given by God through His Son, Jesus. We take grace for granted at our own peril.

The admonition to "hold fast" sounds like a call to be glued to something. I picture a mountain climber, ascending a nearly vertical cliff, with hands tightly wrapped around the safety of his climbing rope. Anything less than a glue-like grip is to risk the peril of a deadly fall.

I wonder if my grasp of my Savior, my hope and faith, is that firm. If the Christian life seems more like a safe walk on a horizontal trail, why grasp the rope firmly? But, if it more closely resembled a steep ascent up a nearly vertical cliff, then the need to "hold fast" seems much more urgent.

While the Christian life most closely resembles a steep climb up a cliff, it's much too easy to consider it a safe walk on a pleasant trail. The rope serves as a convenient guide to loosely handle for direction, but not something to be firmly grasped for our very survival. It is a priority for each of us to consider which illustration - the steep cliff or the safe trail - serves as our true guide for living.

As our Lord takes note of us today, may He find us holding fast "firm until the end".


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Leadership is lifestyle. Somehow that truth has been largely lost amidst emphasis on decision-making skills and the art of persuasion. But, first and foremost, leadership is lifestyle, or character.

Titus chapter one contains a checklist of qualifications for elder leadership in the church, and notice how many pertain to character:

"if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict." (Titus 1:6-9)

Lifestyle in areas of family, temperament, business, and spiritual discipline are all vital qualifications for those entrusted with oversight of the body of Christ. This foundation of lifestyle pre-qualifies those selected to make sound, spiritual decisions for the good of the body of believers.

Lest we come away with a mistaken notion, these qualifications are not for the "spiritually-elite", but rather for all followers of Christ. Elsewhere in the Bible we find that all followers of Christ should be cultivating a lifestyle characterized by these qualities (i.e, Galatians 6:22-23). Elders are selected who exemplify these vital lifestyle qualities that all are striving to attain.

Character is front and center. The apostle Paul prefaces this right at the beginning of this short letter when he refers to "the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness" (Titus 1:1). Truth, so highly prized, is in evidence when godly lifestyle results. An elder, then, is one who exhibits the fruit of truth in his life.

Character formed through truth is the priority for every believer. This side of the kingdom, character will never be perfect, but it should be increasingly evident. It's a bit like the new orange tree in my back yard; it is bearing fruit, but the oranges are smaller than they will be when it grows to become a mature tree. The fruit of the Spirit in our lives may look like the small oranges on my little tree, but the fruit should be discernable. Regardless of the size, an orange will look like an orange. And so it is with the fruit of the Spirit: it may not be there is abundance, but it will be discernable as spiritual fruit.

The fruit of truth is godly character. As Jesus said, "you will know them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:20). Behavior can be faked for the short-term, but character becomes evident in time.

Leadership is lifestyle. The greatest impact we will have on others will be the leadership shown through a godly lifestyle resulting from passionate love of truth. May He mightily use us through our lifestyle today.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The urgency of the appeal can be felt even today, these many years later - "Make every effort to come to me soon ... Make every effort to come before winter." (2 Timothy 4:9,21).

An elderly, lonely man urgently requests the companionship of a special friend in the winter of his life, both figuratively and literally. Not only is the cold winter season approaching; so also is the end of his life - "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come." (2 Timothy 4:6) This man's days are numbered, and thus the urgent appeal to see a dear friend while there is yet time.

Hunkered down in a small, damp prison cell, the elderly apostle Paul has been deserted by all but one of his traveling companions (verses 10-11), and is feeling the effects of the approach of winter. He longs for a warm winter coat, and the encouragement of some of his valued writings (verse 13). These parchments may well have been that which comprises a major portion of the New Testament of our Bibles.

As well as the effects of desertion and the cold, Paul is feeling the sting of fierce opposition from one he thought was close to him; a man named Alexander, a coppersmith (verses 14-15). In the midst of this man's opposition, Paul's traveling companions turned tail and ran away (verse 16); not unlike Jesus' disciples in the hour of his testing.

So, we see the faithful servant, Paul, near the end of his life; lonely, cold, and opposed. This mighty man of faith and truth seems dejected in his dismal circumstances. And yet, the flicker of faith is still very much in evidence - "in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing." (verse 8). His hope was that "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will save me for His heavenly kingdom." (verse 18). He looked, not for release and reward in death, but rather to a future day and time when he would be simultaneously rewarded with all who loved the appearing of the Lord Jesus.

Perhaps this is a winter season in your life, not unlike Paul. Loneliness, desertion, and opposition may very well characterize your present experience, and a cold that no coat can warm may permeate. The remedy is the same as what Paul sought: companionship, physical warmth, the comfort of "the parchments" (Scripture), and reminders of hope. These things provide solace in the darkest hours.

The writer who reminded us to "rejoice always" (Philippians 4:4) is still rejoicing, even in dismal circumstances near the end of his life. He has fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith (verse 7). His confidence is in future reward. May we find the same comfort and encouragement, regardless of our circumstances.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Monday, December 06, 2010

Does anyone need a reminder as to the difficult times we live in? Probably not. But likely a deep-down realization as to the implications of our times is needed.

"But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power ; Avoid such men as these." (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

"But realize this". To realize is to know intimately, much like Paul's desire to intimately know Jesus (Philippians 3:10). Now, why would anyone want to intimately know about the difficult times we live in? Does that mean we must saturate our lives with all the sordid and morbid details that the media conveys to us as news? I certainly hope not; that's a sure recipe for pessimism. Rather, I think the writer of 1 Timothy would have us be sufficiently informed as to the degenerative nature of people in these last days as incentive for the course of action we need to pursue:

"You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

In the last days, while wicked people are "perfecting" what they have learned in sinful behavior, God's people are prompted to perfect their learning in righteousness. And, unless we see this great disparity between lifestyles, we will not likely find the incentive to live as we ought in the last days.

One of the great dangers in last-day living is not clearly seeing the line drawn in the sand. A spirit of accommodation makes it much more difficult to see the radical opposition that truly exists toward the kingdom of God, its King, and its citizens. The more we stand for kingdom principles, the more we discover how close and universal opposition is.

Once again I'm reminded how vitally important the word of God is in the training process for the lifestyle we are called to live: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17) These verses are often used to support the authority of the Bible as God's word, but it's easy to overlook the truth that these words are for equipping God's people in God-pleasing lifestyle.

Know the times that we live in, but know even more the truth that leads to the kingdom lifestyle that God requires of His people. May we be a praise and glory to our Father as we live God-pleasing lives in difficult last days.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

I started a basic regiment of weight training a couple of days ago, and I'm feeling the pain as I write these words. Muscle groups long neglected are loudly protesting this abrupt disruption of complacency. But, as the saying goes, "no pain, no gain." And yet, in the grand scheme of things, there is marginal gain from the pain.

"discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

It's a matter of good stewardship to keep our bodies in reasonably good shape through exercise, proper nutrition, and rest, but, let's face facts: it's ultimately a losing battle. None of us need to be reminded that we have bodies that are in the process of degeneration. Try as we might to preserve youth and vigor, we will not succeed. The painful truth is, "our outer man is decaying" (2 Corinthians 4:16). Fortunately, "our inner man is being renewed day by day." That's the promise of godliness.

So, not to downplay attention to bodily discipline, it makes sense for more reasons than one to focus on training in godliness. As Paul says, "it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." Physical fitness will reap temporary rewards; spiritual fitness is beneficial now as well as in the age to come.

Nothing worthwhile comes easy. Spiritual fitness doesn't magically develop any more than physical fitness results from good intentions. It takes work and discipline. Dragging out of bed early for Bible study and prayer involves a certain amount of pain and inconvenience. And I've love to tell you that every time you discipline yourself for these important habits you'll hear the voice of God and experience incredible intimacy with Him. There will be such moments, but not always. Like physical exercise, you'll not always have an incredible, compelling experience to continue.

I've found that "spiritual exercises", such as prayer, Bible study, and personal worship, are much more valuable when I view them as personal expressions of love for my Father rather than activities that directly benefit me. Granted, I personally benefit immensely, but first and foremost these are ways to be with my Father to express my gratitude and love.

Developing godliness is the most important priority and discipline you can ever pursue. It is learning and spending time with the Father, and His Son, Jesus, so as to develop their character. Perhaps it is best described as opportunities for imitation. It's not knowing ABOUT them, but rather knowing them intimately so as to conform to their character. And this much I am certain of: you'll never for a moment regret devotion to this discipline as you live the truly abundant life in the age to come.

My simple weight training regiment is probably a passing phase of my mortal existence, but I pray that my devotion to training in godliness never loses zeal. And I pray this for you today as well.


© 2010, Steve Taylor